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#854: Troubleshooting an Intermittent Wi-Fi Signal, The More Things Change..., Red October Malware


Hello readers,

This week brings some very cold weather to start! It also brings us another new technician and contributor, Kyle Simpkins.

Kyle comes to us from Staples and brings Windows depth and lots of other great skills to the department. He also brings us news that seems more suited to a bad late-night movie than real life, but as often happens, life is even weirder than anything Hollywood can come up with.

You may notice something missing this week, and that is an article from our long-time and frequent contributor Carl Grasso. This week marks four years in service for Carl, and also marks the end of his time here. He is moving on to some new challenges. He has been a big part of service in South Burlington, and will leave some big shoes to fill. To my friend I say, thanks for everything, and best wishes.

Thanks for reading.


  Troubleshooting an Intermittent Wi-Fi Signal  

Pretty regularly, customers will bring in a Mac that is intermittently dropping its Wi-Fi signal. This is a very frustrating issue, and it can also be a difficult one to diagnose. Every basic home network setup is different in that the hardware is different, the environment is different, the amount of load/strain varies, and the ISP can be different. All these factors must be considered to produce a solution.

Nine times out of ten, this issue is not replicable on our service department Wi-Fi network, and therefore cannot be definitively diagnosed. Sometimes, changing basic network settings within System Preferences will resolve the issue, but that’s not always enough. Often, the best troubleshooting of wireless issues involves doing the work while the machine is in its home environment. That means either doing it yourself and doing the research, or hiring someone to attempt to resolve the issue for you, be it via an on-site visit or phone support.

So what do you do when you have done pretty much everything? One possible resolution for a slightly more advanced user is to adjust the size of something called the MTU, or Maximum Transmission Units. The MTU determines the maximum amount of data each packet can carry through the network. 1500 is typically the default for most Macs, and also the largest allowed by most basic networks. This means up to 1500 bytes can be carried in each packet over the network.

Generally, the larger the MTU size, the better your network efficiency, and I think Apple would agree with that, considering their default size is the maximum usually allowed. However, in some cases, the MTU size set on the computer can conflict with the some aspect of the network, causing it to intermittently lose its signal. This can be resolved by altering the MTU size slightly, within Terminal.

As always, use your best judgement when playing around in Terminal. Things can quickly go from good to bad if you you don’t know what you are doing. Now, with the usual disclaimer out of the way, follow these directions.

Open a Terminal window and type:

  • networksetup -getMTU en0
  • hit Return

Note: You may need to type en1 instead; it depends on which connection you are using. You can find out using Network Utility. This will tell you your current MTU size.

To change the size, type:

  • networksetup -setMTU en0 XXXX(new size)
  • hit Return

You can input whatever size you want; I would recommend keeping it relatively close to the original MTU size, for example: 50 fewer units (1500->1450). This setting is easy enough to change and test as part of your troubleshooting. Nothing is permanent, as you can easily change the MTU size back to what it was originally (using the aforementioned command) if this does not resolve your issue.

  The More Things Change...  

I am a new employee to Small Dog Electronics, working to become a service technician in the South Burlington location. I last worked for Staples as a PC technician, fixing and troubleshooting Windows machines. I was also the Mac guy when I was there because I was the most familiar with Apple computers. I was the go-to guy and the one always sent to customer’s houses to set up networks or printers whenever an Apple computer was present.

When I saw the position for service technician open up for the South Burlington store, I jumped on the opportunity as quickly as I could. I figured I had a leg up on the competition because of my tech bench experience and my ability to troubleshoot most problems with computers. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Since I joined the Small Dog team, I have crammed so much new information into my brain that at times it feels like it may explode. I have come to understand that no matter how much I knew about PCs, I didn’t know squat about Macs. They operate completely differently — even the terminology for most of the hardware is different.

What I did have going for me was my desire to learn about everything technology based. If it’s something I don’t know and is related to technology, my brain would soak it up like a sponge. Some of my best experiences so far working as the Service Writer in South Burlington have been learning from the customers who have had more experience than I have with Apple computers (not to mention the great team I have been learning from so far).

What little time I have spent here so far has been some of the most educationally valuable I have had working with and around technology. I want to thank my team, my sales staff, my headquarters team and everyone else at Small Dog for all the support and help they have given me thus far in my Small Dog career.

Editor’s Note: If you live in the Vermont area and are interested in joining the Small Dog Service team, email your resume and cover letter to or check out all of our job listings at our Jobs page.

  Red October Malware  

One thing I don’t miss in making the change from PCs to Macs is virus removals and troubleshooting. Virus removals were one of the most common tasks I had to perform at Staples, and one of the most expensive. I grew to hate them.

I’ve been here for a few months and I’ve yet see a case of a digital viral infection. I was surprised enough that I ended up asking my colleagues how common it is for Apple computers to be infected with a virus. The response I got was “extremely uncommon.” It sounded like you had to go looking for one to actually find one.

Computer viruses are constantly evolving and causing havoc. One piece of malware that does seem to get around is the kind that steals informations and sends it to an anonymous location for someone to rifle through later. Some of you keeping up on current events may have seen mention of a piece of malware called Red October, named after the book, The Hunt for Red October.

This lovely piece of malware (sneaky software that gets into a computer and infects it with a virus) seems to be written by several different groups of hackers and governments all from different projects. This large base of contributors makes its place of origin unknown as well as who is controlling it. This software gets into a computer primarily through email, and drops the payload which installs three pieces of software — the communication package, the intelligence gathering package, and the guaranteed backdoor.

This little piece of bad software is designed to get into diplomatic and governmental systems and siphon information off with as little notice as possible. If it is noticed and removed, it has guaranteed its continued existence by installing a little add-on to either the Microsoft Word and Excel installed programs or Adobe’s Flash program. When the primary malware file is removed, these add-ons will actually reinstall the primary file for continued information siphoning.

Red October has infected computers in 39 countries with no clear target. The manufacturer of the file is unclear because of its mish-mashed coding that is partly custom and partly that of many other different malware files all designed to do something different. Yet, it works so well together that it was only recently discovered and has been suspected to have been around since mid-2007. That would make it a six-year digital intelligence gathering operation that has stolen unknown amounts of data over the years and sent it off to unknown destinations.

Editor’s NoteI am no conspiracy nut, but this kind of stuff is certainly fodder for stories of hidden shadowy power groups looking to secretly take over the world. -Liam

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